The Rooney Rule, named after the beloved former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was intended to level the playing field in the hiring of NFL head coaches. When it was implemented in 2003, Dan Rooney was chair of the NFL's Workplace Diversity Committee and pushed for its adoption.
Now, the Rooney Rule is the subject of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL brought by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores who believes he has been discriminated against because of his skin color. He has some persuasive evidence to back up his claims-of the 32 NFL teams, only one is African-American, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. Adding insult to injury, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick sent an email to Flores inadvertently informing him that his interview with the NY Giants was a sham.
According to the lawsuit, Flores claims he was put through sham interviews for the sake of appearance, and that the Rooney Rule "has failed to yield any meaningful change to an institution so fully steeped in discriminatory practices."
His lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, calls the "well-intentioned" rule a failure, accusing the NFL of a "complete lack of action" since enacting the rule "to remedy discrimination that it admits exists."
"The Rooney Rule is not working. It is not working because the numbers of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and Quarterback Coaches are not even close to being reflective of the number of Black athletes on the field.
"The Rooney Rule is also not working because management is not doing the interviews in good-faith, and it therefore creates a stigma that interviews of Black candidates are only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule rather than in recognition of the talents that the Black candidates possess."
While I believe Coach Flores' assertions, a successful lawsuit is a complex process and the plaintiff must show concrete evidence that prospective employers refused to employ him based (in this case) on racial prejudice. That's a high bar but a good lawyer can overcome it. In my next post, I will discuss the law and how one might go about successfully proving discrimination in the hiring process.